In 1992-93 I worked as Intellectual Property Manager for Intelligent Aerodynamics, Inc. and AESOP, Inc. (AErodynamic Simulation and OPtimization), two former S-corporations, with licensing. The companies produced CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) codes for aeronautic and hydronautic applications used by a worldwide military and aerospace industry clientele; teams were composed of personnel from the School of Engineering (Mechanical & Aerospace Dept.), Princeton University. I gained some exposure to aerospace applications of CFD including military and commercial aircraft; I got some exposure to surface/subsurface hydrodynamic applications. Mostly my job consisted of negotiating international billing matters and tracking accounts (Excel). Some exposure to UNIX, X-Window, and FORTRAN. Day to day, I worked alongside Dr. A. Jameson’s graduate students and did clerical work while cataloguing his library of CFD papers.
Note: the screenshots below represent the work of my former employers and colleagues and are presented here in order to illustrate the kind of technology for which I assisted with licensing.
below: output from an old Cray supercomputer (different CFD code)
what I wrote in my memoirs about working for IAI/AESOP:
Anthony had poured himself a gin and tonic and was seated at the kitchen table. I greeted him and timidly tried to engage him in further conversation about his work. Following a few awkward exchanges, he could see that I was half-seriously interested.
“Well look,” he said, “if you go down into the basement I should think there might be some beers in the refrigerator down there, if you’d like one.”
“Thank you,” I said, making for the door. When I had returned with a cold Moosehead in hand, I saw that Anthony had pulled out a pencil and paper and had begun to make some simple sketches – side views of airfoils which were sort of wrapped around by webbing, which he called grids or meshes.
“There are basically three kinds of grids,” he instructed. “The ‘O’ mesh, which looks like this . . . the ‘H’ mesh, like this . . . and the ‘C’ mesh, like so . . . The ‘H’ mesh resolves to a slit, the ‘O’ mesh to a circle, and the ‘C’ mesh resolves to a half plane . . . like so.”
For the better part of half an hour I sat there is silence, for the most part asking only the occasional question or two while Anthony carefully laid out the basics of mesh generation and the part it plays in CFD. In theory, the mesh space (which could be, for starters, one-, two-, or three-dimensional) of the foil or its surroundings shrinks to infinity, and using differential equations or numerical analysis, you then calculate the flow of air about the foil. There were certain assumptions you might make in order to solve an easier equation, such as by assuming that air is incompressible, the flow is inviscid versus viscid, etc., but that would only approximate “reality” – and the calculations might proceed by iterative methods, and of course this can all be done with hydrodynamics, he continued, water flow instead of air flow for things like ships, torpedoes and submarines. At various edges of the field, he concluded, they were solving more difficult equations, without relaxing so many restrictions; for example, some folks were pursuing a line known as reactive flow, he smiled, where you try to account even for the fact of chemical reactions between the surface material of a wing and the hot, surrounding, onrushing air, and how the reactions affect the flow.
It was approximately 11:30 at night when Anthony decided to break up our little kitchen chat, saying “Here look, I have to run over to the office for a minute and then I think I’ll pick up some cookies for Sharla. Why don’t you come along if you like, hmmm?”
I was happy to come along; it seemed that he was starting to take me under his wing a little bit, so to speak.
We hopped into one of his two Porsches, eschewing the Jaguar and zipped the few blocks over to the Toy Factory and his offices therein. Upon arriving, Anthony rifled hurriedly through some cabinet drawers and pulled out copies of several big documents he’d authored over the years, each one dealing with some aspect of CFD. They ranged from simple introductory monographs to some rather more complex stuff; I thanked him effusively and took quick stock of the fancy engineering workstations scattered about the rooms. Anthony pointed out the big central computer in the back room, a Convex C1, which looked exactly like one of the four large computers in his own basement, then he ushered me out of the office and back to the car. On the way out of the building he pointed to the Engineering Library and told me I could probably study there if I wanted to.
“I don’t think anyone would challenge you,” he grinned.
Anthony had guessed my thoughts correctly: I was a bit self-conscious about utilizing resources at a school where I wasn’t officially enrolled, especially one with a reputation like Princeton had. I imagined it would be a lot like Albert had said Harvard had been: a fair share of assholes sprinkled here and there, punctuated every so often by some truly wonderful finds. I mean, there’s an asshole in every crowd – someone was going to complain about me “hacking into their resources” without official privileges.
Back in the Porsche, I think I managed some small talk en route to Wa Wa which was the local equivalent of a 7-Eleven store. I segued into more CFD questions and Anthony continued his discourse on the difficulties of his field. I confessed total ignorance with respect to partial differential equations, which make up a sizable part of the elementary tools of a “CFD-er.” He described in layman’s terms what a differential equation was, what physical phenomena it could describe, and why it can be so deucedly difficult to solve. I pondered his ramblings as best I could, feeling a bit uncomfortable at having only a smattering of college mathematics under my belt, and I wished once again that I had paid more attention to my father’s advice against law school. I was somewhat relieved to be rescued by the approaching store; soon we would be at home munching cookies with Sharla.
The first thing I noticed when we walked into the store was the presence of a rather large, slightly disheveled gentleman standing near the paperback bookrack and perusing various titles despite the fact that he’d already had one in hand, cracked wide open such that the spine was permanently fractured. The gentleman in question sported a huge pot belly, a scruffy beard, and this incredibly geeky lime green T-shirt – one of those kinds with so much oddly-shaped, nondescript white lettering (long faded and cracked, of course) that, as Anthony might easily have remarked, “one couldn’t tell at merely a glance what message the wearer was striving to convey.” You had to really stare at the letters in order to make any sense of them, and their legibility was of course confounded all the more by the portly rolls of fat beneath the green shirt. He was stuffing his face with some sort of junk food as he read, and I immediately mistook him for a common bum.
In fact, I actually thought he was a homeless person who was hanging out in the convenience store for the cheery light and free entertainment it afforded.
“Hi, Anthony.” The putative homeless person suddenly looked up and beamed at the both of us with a pair of penetrating eyes.
“Hello” volleyed Anthony quickly in return, not stopping to chat; the dark cashmere long coat moved past the disheveled man in no more than a few brisk strides. I was rather surprised, to say the least; perhaps the man was simply an unkempt grad student or something.
Anthony and I pondered what sort of cookies to get Sharla, and then he picked up a bag of his favorite potato chips and negotiated the purchase. As we walked back to the Porsche, Anthony had evidently read my thoughts again.
“That was the . . . Von Neumann Professor of Computational Mathematics” he offered with a wry smile. “He’s . . . working on some new kinds of Set Theory.”
I thought he was working on a fistful of donuts and a cheap dime novel.
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page last updated: 11-25-2018